By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Teppei Kasai
NEW YORK and TOKYO -- The Apple Watch launched quietly around the world Friday without the usual frenzy or fanfare for an Apple rollout, as a handful of boutiques in major cities like Tokyo and Paris sold the timepiece -- but not for purchase at its own stores.
Shops included The Corner in Berlin, Colette in Paris, Maxfield in Los Angeles and Dover Street Market in Tokyo and London. Apple (AAPL) courted the outlets to promote the watch as a fashion item rather than just another techie gizmo.
The watch has been on display in Apple stores since April 10, when it became available for preorder. Customers began receiving the smartwatch Friday, though there were delays to June or later as Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook's first product has drawn more demand than expected.
%VIRTUAL-pullquote-I buy one or two Apple products every time they release something new.%Paired with an iPhone, the watch allows users to check email, listen to music and make phone calls. It also tracks a person's health, for instance by monitoring heartbeats or tracking calories burned during a workout.
A small group of Japanese tech addicts lined up in Tokyo to become the first to buy the watch, with about 50 people at electronic store Bic Camera in Tokyo's Ginza district while another 20 were at a shop of mobile carrier SoftBank.
"I buy one or two Apple products every time they release something new," Chiu Long, a 40-year-old IT worker from Taiwan, told Reuters, waiting at Bic. "I like to run, so the heart rate reader is progress."
In Berlin more than 100 people stood in line at designer boutique The Corner on Friday morning. First to walk out with an Apple Watch Sport was Alex Anikin from Russia, who waited overnight in line outside the store. "We came first at 11 yesterday, so [we have been waiting] 22 hours approximately," he told Reuters.
'Good Early Sign'
At New York's Fifth Avenue Apple store, dozens of customers crowded around watch displays and demos, even though they couldn't purchase the watch there. FBR Capital Markets senior analyst Daniel Ives polled customers at the store and said about 15 percent were there to either try or better understand the watch, which he called a "good early sign."
Several customers said they planned to buy the watch online after trying it, while others had already preordered it but had yet to see it in person.
"I wanted to check it out for the first time," said Steve Sosebee, a 49-year-old nonprofit chief executive who preordered the $349 Sport version. "It has a lot of functions that are useful, especially the fitness."
Reviewers say the smartwatch could make life easier for people on the move, but gave it poor marks for battery life and slow-loading apps.
Technology lovers and investors keen to find out the watch's components were frustrated, with a tough resin coating protecting the core computing module from immediate scrutiny.
Gadget repair firm iFixit, which has successfully pried open other Apple products on their launch day, said the U.S. company also appeared to be promoting the watch's inner workings, complicating a detailed analysis of its origins from underlying parts suppliers.
Gold Edition for $10,000 in U.S.
The lack of lines at Apple stores will make it hard to judge popular demand for the watch, which comes in 38 variations. U.S. prices range from $349 for the Sport version to $10,000 and more for the gold Edition.
Prices are higher elsewhere, ranging from 399 euros to 18,000 euros ($432 to $19,490) in Germany, and 299 pounds to 13,500 pounds ($452 to $20,415) in Britain.
A survey of 1,000 British consumers earlier this month by GfK, a market research firm, found 12 percent planned to buy a smartwatch in the next six months. But nearly three-quarters (73 percent) said they were ready to pay no more than 299 pounds, the cost of the most basic version.
Samsung Electronics (SSNLF), Sony (SNE) and LG Electronics have released their own smartwatches, many powered by software developed by Internet company Google (GOOGL).
Apple hasn't released any numbers since it began taking orders on April 10, although many buyers were told their watches wouldn't arrive for a month or more as the initial supply appeared to dry up.
Wall Street estimates of Apple Watch sales vary widely. FBR Capital's Ives raised his estimate for 2015 this week to 20 million from 17 million, based in part on online order backlogs.
The guesswork was backed up by sources on the ground in Taiwan, where many of the components in the Apple Watch are made. They told Reuters that Apple aims to ship at least 20 million this year.
More than 3,000 apps are initially available for the Apple Watch, according to the company. These are software programs especially designed to work in the confines of the watch's tiny screen.
Germany's Porsche said it is the first carmaker to connect its vehicles to the Apple Watch, allowing drivers to control the car's ventilation remotely, ensure doors are locked and find it in a parking lot.
Apple said Wednesday that some customers will get watches faster than promised.
-With additional reporting by Bill Rigby in San Francisco, Issei Kato in Toyko Rosanna Philpott in Berlin, Pascale Antonie in Paris and Melanie Burton in Melbourne. Writing by Eric Auchard in Frankfurt.
By Yasmeen Abutaleb and Teppei Kasai